Summary of States and sovereignty in the Middle East: myths and realities

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From the Arab Spring to the Syrian Civil War and the rise of ISIS, the Middle East has undergone tremendous upheaval in recent years, leading many experts to predict the imminent disintegration of the Middle East state system. However, as Oxford University political scientist Louise Fawcett argues in International Affairs, these predictions have so far failed to materialize. Fawcett challenges some of the international relations theories that have given rise to the myth that the Middle East’s artificially drawn borders are too weak to withstand the kind of internal and external challenges they have been fighting since 2011. getAbstract recommends her heavily footnoted paper to political scientists and anyone who wants to find out why the borders in the Middle East are not actually crumbling.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why many experts predicted the unraveling of the Middle East state system,
  • Why most international borders in the Middle East nevertheless remain intact and
  • Why the Arab uprisings haven’t been able to bring about radical political reforms in most Arab states.

About the Author

Louise Fawcett is professor of international relations at St. Catherine’s College at Oxford University.



The Arab uprisings, which started in late 2010, along with the onset of the Syrian Civil War and the rise of ISIS, prompted predictions of imminent state breakdown and radical changes to the Middle Eastern border system. In response, scholars and media experts frequently invoked the World War I–era Sykes-Picot agreement between the English and the French, which divided the territories of the former Ottoman Empire between the two colonial powers and arbitrarily lumped together people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.   

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